The Simple and Hard Facts About Being a Healthy Black Person

The Simple and Hard Facts About Being a Healthy Black Person

Young african american woman eating an appleBeing healthy is pretty simple, but most people in the United States find it pretty hard. And for an African American, it’s over-the-top hard. Not only is the struggle of getting healthy and maintaining a healthy lifestyle embedded in the culture, but there are sometimes actual physical and financial obstacles to overall health.

There are many things in life that are simple and hard. Like staying committed to your spouse. It’s simple. Just stay faithful to one person for the rest of your life. It’s hard because there are all kinds of ups and downs you go through.

Alongside various temptations, you will also lose that euphoric feeling you had when you first met. That’s what makes it hard for the long haul.

Following Jesus seems simple. Jesus is to be the Ruler and number one priority in your life.

Sounds simple, right? It is but it’s also hard to do it. It means you have to deny yourself. Who wants to do that?

It means that you have to trust someone you cannot see. That’s a pretty high expectation, and if you have ever tried it, it’s extremely difficult.

Application is Key

The simple part about being healthy is summed up in a maxim from Michael Pollan, the author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Food Rules: “Eat [real] food, not too much, mostly plants.” It can also be summed up in the overall guideline of staying active. That seems simple enough but even in the overall culture, it is a tall order. Folks who try often get buried in a mountain of guilt over late-night binges and how that occasional donut in the morning becomes habitual.

There seems to be no end to the people telling us that we need to eat better and stay active. The problem is not more information but application.

Usually where application fails is when we try to break ourselves from our normal routine. It’s all about habits. Habits are what shape our lives.

In his book the Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg says that habits can be broken down into three basic steps.

First, there is a cue or the trigger that tells our brains that we need to do something. The next step is the routine, which is the behavior that leads to the reward. The next step is the reward that reinforces the habit.

This is something he has labeled the habit loop.

Breaking Old Habits

Woman Doing Resistance TrainingIt seems simple to break a habit then. All we need to do is recognize our cues. Then we can choose alternate behaviors that lead to a different reward.

The problem comes when your whole culture is made up of cues that go against the habit you are trying to break. That’s when the mountain of unhealthiness seems insurmountable.

At that point, you have to choose between your cultural identity and your personal well-being. What do I mean by that?

It’s Sunday afternoon at Big Mama’s house and everyone is famished after spending hours at church. Big Mama’s table is full of all kinds of things that are detrimental to your health: creamy mac and cheese. Fried chicken. Chocolate cake.

The only thing that’s decent is the collared greens and those have been overcooked with ham hocks. So the health factor is reduced.

What do you do? Do you skip the meal? You’re hungry and after all, you don’t want to disappoint Big Mama. Plus your family has been eating this way for years.

Besides that not only has your family been eating this way but millions of African American families have been eating this way. It’s embedded in your culture.

You begin to remember that time when your unusual cousin from California came and ate a salad the whole week and everyone ridiculed her and said she had been hanging around white folks too much.

You don’t want to be thought of as betraying your race. So you reach for the fried chicken. It’s only right.

Limited Time and Resources

Bald office worker eating burger while typing on laptopHow about the many African Americans who are single moms? You don’t have time to cook healthy meals for the kids. You are just trying to make it through the day and get some peace once they are finally put to bed.

So what do you do? You give them the quickest and easiest thing.

Most of the time the quickest and easiest thing is also the unhealthiest. It is loaded with sodium and sugar. It is targeted to parents and children and has been tested and refined to produce a bliss point.

I learned about this concept from the book by Michael Moss titled Salt Sugar Fat

The bliss point is the perfect combination of salt, sugar, and fat that will get people craving for more. You don’t want to hear this but you’ve been had.

The food companies are deliberately making you unhealthy so they can make a profit from your lack of time to cook healthy meals for your family.

What if you did choose to live healthy in spite of the inconvenience of cultural identity and time? You still may face other challenges.

Let’s say you decided to follow Michael Pollan’s food maxim of eating real food and mostly plants. The economics are against you. Real food just costs more.

When you’re faced with feeding your family with the amount of money for food in your budget you have to make some choices. If it doesn’t add up you will buy the junk. And then you’re pulled back into the cycle.

There is also the existence of food deserts that totally trump eating healthy. A food desert is a swath of a usually urban community that does not have a grocery store.

There is no access to healthy food and families resort to buying food from the corner store which is usually processed and packaged. No fresh fruits or vegetables in sight.

If you are part of the 23.5 million people (mostly African American and Latino) in the United States who live in a food desert, this is a huge obstacle.

Let’s Talk Money

How about if you said that you wanted to stay active? You want to get a gym membership. That’s going to cost. You also have a family to take care of and a job to go to. You have to find time to squeeze it in.

Not only that but when most of your friends are not active then you won’t be active. Jim Rohn, the popular self-help guru, is often quoted as saying “You are the average of the five people you most spend time with.”

When it comes to being active, most black people don’t hang around other active black people. Watching sports on TV doesn’t count.

This is the essence of the struggle many black people face when it comes to health. On the surface, it seems like the struggle that anyone who wants to make a major change faces.

In many ways it is. What makes it unique is the cultural factors surrounding health.

For most African Americans eating processed, cheap, nutrient-absent foods and sitting on the couch watching reality shows has become a way of life.

Gathering around the table to consume salt, sugar, and fat in copious amounts has become the symbol of what it means to be family.

History of Soul Food

Man on ScaleDon’t get me wrong. I love soul food. I think that the distinct flavor of the cuisine that we grew up with is worth having once in a while but I also believe that some of the ingredients have gone the way of just wowing the taste buds instead of delivering the sustenance we need.

Bryant Terry, author of Afro-Vegan, in his article “Reclaiming True Grits” points out that once upon a time African American food was nutrient dense and less processed.

He recalls the meals that his Ma’ Dear made in Tennessee and how they were organic and contained ingredients from the garden. It is important to note that we didn’t always eat like this.

So what happened? Corporate America happened. Concern for profit became more important than concern for humans.

In the 1960s, Soul Food became a hit and the recipes became more dangerous to our health. We have come to equate soul food with the fare showcased in the episode of the Boondocks about the “itis.”

You know, that feeling you get after a big meal and you just want to fall over and go to sleep.

TV or play video games on the couch are not what we are designed to do.

It’s a way of life I’ve seen played out in too many homes. Personally, I’ve tried to break away from it. I do it in fits and starts.

Some leafy greens here. Some HIIT workouts there. Then sooner or later the holidays come. That’s when the temptation levels are the highest.

My mind has two thoughts battling each other. The first thought is to not give in and pursue my highest ideals. The second one is that I’m not only missing out on the stimulation of my taste buds but the community that I’m a part of.

Community Woes

Most African Americans are a part of the church. It would seem that this makes things even worse. When church people get together, they eat.

And they don’t just eat but they eat good (or bad depending on your point of view). Treating our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit seems to only apply to sex, smoking, and drinking in the church world. Packaged foods and large meals get a free pass.

I can remember when I was a strict vegan for six months in college. I was filled with energy and it was mostly from the food that I was eating and not eating.

I felt like I was lighter than air. My mind was clear and I didn’t have any illnesses. Why did I stop? Family telling me I was eating rabbit food.

To put it simply I had no community to support me. And when it comes to food and many other lifestyle choices, the community always wins. That’s why for most African Americans, eating healthy is simple and hard at the same time.

Thankfully there are those in the African American community who are banding together to promote good health. Here are just a few websites to help you find the community for your new fitness habits.

So what about you? Do you find it hard to live a healthy lifestyle? Do you find African American culture presents a barrier to a healthy lifestyle?

Faith leaders across US join in decrying voting restrictions

Faith leaders across US join in decrying voting restrictions

Video Courtesy of ABC15 Arizona


In Georgia, faith leaders are asking corporate executives to condemn laws restricting voting access — or face a boycott. In Arizona and Texas, clergy have assembled outside the state capitols to decry what they view as voter-suppression measures targeting Black and Hispanic people.

Similar initiatives have been undertaken in Florida, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio and elsewhere as many faith leaders perceive a threat to voting rights that warrants their intervention in a volatile political issue.

“It is very much in a part of our tradition, as Christians, to be engaged in the public square,” said the Rev. Dr. Eric Ledermann, pastor at University Presbyterian Church in Tempe, Arizona, after the event outside the Statehouse.

“When people say, ‘Let’s not get political in the church’ — Jesus was very political,” Ledermann said. “He was engaged in how his culture, his community was being shaped, and who was being left out of the decision-making process.”

Georgia already has enacted legislation with various restrictive voting provisions. More than 350 voting bills are now under consideration in dozens of other states, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, a public policy think tank. Among the proposals: tightening requirements for voter IDs, reducing the number of ballot drop boxes and curtailing early voting.

African Methodist Episcopal Bishop Reginald Jackson, who oversees AME churches in Georgia, has been urging corporate leaders to do more to fight voting restrictions. So far, he’s dissatisfied with the response, and says he may call for boycotts of some companies.

In this Tuesday, April 13, 2021 file photo, Reverend Kenneth Pierce, 1st VP of the Detroit Branch NAACP, and pastor at Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church, speaks Tuesday, April 13, 2021, during a rally to support voting rights & end voter suppression at the Capitol in Lansing, Mich. In Georgia, faith leaders are asking corporate executives to condemn laws restricting voting access — or face a boycott. In Arizona and Texas, clergy have assembled outside the state capitols to decry what they view as voter-suppression measures targeting Black and Hispanic people. Similar initiatives have been undertaken in Florida, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio and elsewhere. (Matthew Dae Smith/Lansing State Journal via AP, File)


In numerous states, voting rights activism is being led by multi-faith coalitions that include Christian, Jewish and Muslim groups. Here is what some of the faith leaders are saying:

The Rev. Dr. Cassandra Gould, executive director of Missouri Faith Voices, for whom the issue is “very personal”:

“I’m from Alabama, a little town called Demopolis. It’s 47 miles west of Selma, where my mother fought for rights, went to jail on Bloody Sunday (in 1965). … So those are the stories that I grew up with. I never imagined that I would still be fighting the same fight.”

“There is a playbook to suppress votes, to shrink the electorate. And we believe fundamentally, as a tenet of faith, that it should be expanded so that people are included, not excluded.”

___

The Rev. Dr. Warren H. Stewart, Sr., senior pastor at First Institutional Baptist Church in Phoenix and chairman of Arizona’s African American Christian Clergy Coalition:

“If you read the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, it talks about justice, talks about being on the side of the oppressed, the downtrodden, the orphan, the poor. And this whole voter-suppression issue is about fighting against those who would oppress people of color, the poor, people who are struggling to make it in life. So it is a faith issue as much as a justice issue. They’re not disconnected.”

“The reaction of the Republican Party, to the most people ever voting in the history of the United States, is that ‘we’re gonna lose in the future.’ So it’s very obvious that this is not about accountability or about ethics, it’s about politics. And that’s unjust, and so that’s why we’re out here.”

___

The Rev. Frederick Haynes III, pastor of Friendship-West Baptist Church in Dallas:

“We have those in leadership — in Texas government — who have in their ideological DNA the same mindset of those slave masters who denied the humanity of Black people. The same mindset of those individuals who upheld Jim and Jane Crow segregation. … Gov. (Greg) Abbot and his Republican cronies have decided to dress up Jim and Jane Crow in a tuxedo of what they call voter integrity, but it’s still Jim and Jane Crow. … You are simply trying to create a problem for voters you don’t want to vote.”

___

The Rev. Edwin Robinson, organizer of Dallas Black Clergy:

“No matter what side of the political aisle you find yourself, any attempt to hinder voting is an attempt to take away our greatest freedom and liberty. … We should be doing everything to protect our greatest freedoms — and make ways for our citizens to enthusiastically vote and do so free from fear and intimidation.”

___

The Rev. Anne Ellsworth, priest at St. Augustine’s Episcopal Parish in Tempe:

“I am a pastor in a white congregation. I am a priest in a church, the Episcopal Church, that is famous for our white, Christian, moderate stance. … My interest is in awakening knowledge in other white, moderate, Christian women who have remained silent or who have felt powerless or think that it doesn’t matter to them. My guiding light is a quote from Martin Luther King: ‘There are not enough white people who value or who cherish democratic principles more than white privilege.’”

“White Christian women know what it is to have our voices silenced. And we cannot stand by while other people’s voices are also being silenced. We need to recognize our privilege and use it as leverage to fight voter suppression aimed at Black Americans.”

___

Rabbi Lydia Medwin of The Temple in Atlanta:

“The Jewish community has responded to the call of our African American brothers and sisters since the since the Civil Rights era began. When our partners and people that we care deeply about say to us, ‘We’re hurting, we’re being treated unfairly,’ we have no other response but to step up.”

___

Rabbi David Segal, Texas organizer for the Religious Action Center for Judaism Reform:

“The backlash against Georgia passing legislation is actually helping us in Texas, because we’re able to point to that and organize the anger around those laws to try and stop it here. … People of faith stand for inclusion and stand for respect and stand for acceptance and a different kind of justice.”

___

Associated Press writer Jeff Amy in Atlanta contributed to this report.

___

In this Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020 file photo, Voters line up outside Vickery Baptist Church waiting to cast their ballots on Election Day in Dallas. In Georgia, faith leaders are asking corporate executives to condemn laws restricting voting access — or face a boycott. In Arizona and Texas, clergy have assembled outside the state capitols to decry what they view as voter-suppression measures targeting Black and Hispanic people. (AP Photo/LM Otero, File)

Why Easter is called Easter, and other little-known facts about the holiday

Why Easter is called Easter, and other little-known facts about the holiday

Image 20170411 26706 ygcz2u.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
What is the origin of Easter eggs? Katie Morrow, CC BY-NC-ND

This is an updated version of an article published in April 2019.The Conversation

On April 4, Christians will be celebrating Easter, the day on which the resurrection of Jesus is said to have taken place. The date of celebration changes from year to year.

The reason for this variation is that Easter always falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the spring equinox. So, in 2022, Easter will be celebrated on April 17, and on April 9 in 2023.

I am a religious studies scholar specializing in early Christianity, and my research shows that this dating of Easter goes back to the complicated origins of this holiday and how it has evolved over the centuries.

Easter is quite similar to other major holidays like Christmas and Halloween, which have evolved over the last 200 years or so. In all of these holidays, Christian and non-Christian (pagan) elements have continued to blend together.

Easter as a rite of spring

Most major holidays have some connection to the changing of seasons. This is especially obvious in the case of Christmas. The New Testament gives no information about what time of year Jesus was born. Many scholars believe, however, that the main reason Jesus’ birth came to be celebrated on December 25 is because that was the date of the winter solstice according to the Roman calendar.

Since the days following the winter solstice gradually become longer and less dark, it was ideal symbolism for the birth of “the light of the world” as stated in the New Testament’s Gospel of John.

Similar was the case with Easter, which falls in close proximity to another key point in the solar year: the vernal equinox (around March 20), when there are equal periods of light and darkness. For those in northern latitudes, the coming of spring is often met with excitement, as it means an end to the cold days of winter.

Spring also means the coming back to life of plants and trees that have been dormant for winter, as well as the birth of new life in the animal world. Given the symbolism of new life and rebirth, it was only natural to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus at this time of the year.

The naming of the celebration as “Easter” seems to go back to the name of a pre-Christian goddess in England, Eostre, who was celebrated at beginning of spring. The only reference to this goddess comes from the writings of the Venerable Bede, a British monk who lived in the late seventh and early eighth century. As religious studies scholar Bruce Forbes summarizes:

“Bede wrote that the month in which English Christians were celebrating the resurrection of Jesus had been called Eosturmonath in Old English, referring to a goddess named Eostre. And even though Christians had begun affirming the Christian meaning of the celebration, they continued to use the name of the goddess to designate the season.”

Bede was so influential for later Christians that the name stuck, and hence Easter remains the name by which the English, Germans and Americans refer to the festival of Jesus’ resurrection.

The connection with Jewish Passover

It is important to point out that while the name “Easter” is used in the English-speaking world, many more cultures refer to it by terms best translated as “Passover” (for instance, “Pascha” in Greek) – a reference, indeed, to the Jewish festival of Passover.

In the Hebrew Bible, Passover is a festival that commemorates the liberation of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt, as narrated in the Book of Exodus. It was and continues to be the most important Jewish seasonal festival, celebrated on the first full moon after the vernal equinox.

At the time of Jesus, Passover had special significance, as the Jewish people were again under the dominance of foreign powers (namely, the Romans). Jewish pilgrims streamed into Jerusalem every year in the hope that God’s chosen people (as they believed themselves to be) would soon be liberated once more.

On one Passover, Jesus traveled to Jerusalem with his disciples to celebrate the festival. He entered Jerusalem in a triumphal procession and created a disturbance in the Jerusalem Temple. It seems that both of these actions attracted the attention of the Romans, and that as a result Jesus was executed around the year A.D. 30.

Some of Jesus’ followers, however, believed that they saw him alive after his death, experiences that gave birth to the Christian religion. As Jesus died during the Passover festival and his followers believed he was resurrected from the dead three days later, it was logical to commemorate these events in close proximity.

Resurrection. Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P., CC BY-NC-ND

Some early Christians chose to celebrate the resurrection of Christ on the same date as the Jewish Passover, which fell around day 14 of the month of Nisan, in March or April. These Christians were known as Quartodecimans (the name means “Fourteeners”).

By choosing this date, they put the focus on when Jesus died and also emphasized continuity with the Judaism out of which Christianity emerged. Some others instead preferred to hold the festival on a Sunday, since that was when Jesus’ tomb was believed to have been found.

In A.D. 325, the Emperor Constantine, who favored Christianity, convened a meeting of Christian leaders to resolve important disputes at the Council of Nicaea. The most fateful of its decisions was about the status of Christ, whom the council recognized as “fully human and fully divine.” This council also resolved that Easter should be fixed on a Sunday, not on day 14 of Nisan. As a result, Easter is now celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon of the vernal equinox.

The Easter bunny and Easter eggs

In early America, the Easter festival was far more popular among Catholics than Protestants. For instance, the New England Puritans regarded both Easter and Christmas as too tainted by non-Christian influences to be appropriate to celebrate. Such festivals also tended to be opportunities for heavy drinking and merrymaking.

The fortunes of both holidays changed in the 19th century, when they became occasions to be spent with one’s family. This was done partly out of a desire to make the celebration of these holidays less rowdy.

Children on an egg hunt. Susan Bassett, CC BY-NC-ND

But Easter and Christmas also became reshaped as domestic holidays because understandings of children were changing. Prior to the 17th century, children were rarely the center of attention. As historian Stephen Nissenbaum writes,

“…children were lumped together with other members of the lower orders in general, especially servants and apprentices – who, not coincidentally, were generally young people themselves.”

From the 17th century onward, there was an increasing recognition of childhood as as time of life that should be joyous, not simply as preparatory for adulthood. This “discovery of childhood” and the doting upon children had profound effects on how Easter was celebrated.

It is at this point in the holiday’s development that Easter eggs and the Easter bunny become especially important. Decorated eggs had been part of the Easter festival at least since medieval times, given the obvious symbolism of new life. A vast amount of folklore surrounds Easter eggs, and in a number of Eastern European countries, the process of decorating them is extremely elaborate. Several Eastern European legends describe eggs turning red (a favorite color for Easter eggs) in connection with the events surrounding Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Yet it was only in the 17th century that a German tradition of an “Easter hare” bringing eggs to good children came to be known. Hares and rabbits had a long association with spring seasonal rituals because of their amazing powers of fertility.

When German immigrants settled in Pennsylvania in the 18th and 19th centuries, they brought this tradition with them. The wild hare also became supplanted by the more docile and domestic rabbit, in another indication of how the focus moved toward children.

As Christians celebrate the festival this spring in commemoration of Jesus’ resurrection, the familiar sights of the Easter bunny and Easter eggs serve as a reminder of the holiday’s very ancient origins outside of the Christian tradition.

Brent Landau, Lecturer in Religious Studies, University of Texas at Austin

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Rev. Suzan Johnson Cook’s Black women in ministry program gains $1 million grant

Rev. Suzan Johnson Cook’s Black women in ministry program gains $1 million grant

Video Courtesy of The Face of America


A new program pairing Black women in ministry with mentors has received a $1 million Lilly Endowment grant.

The Rev. Suzan Johnson Cook, former U.S. international religious freedom ambassador, and her home church, Union Baptist Church in Harlem, New York, have partnered on the R.E.A.L. THRIVE Initiative. The program includes women in the New York and Washington metropolitan areas as well as in Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana and Texas.

The R.E.A.L. acronym stands for relationship building, equipping and expanding, access and leadership and legacy development. It will feature two groups of 25 senior pastors and church planters who will serve as mentors for women representing about a dozen denominations.

The grant is part of Lilly Endowment’s Thriving in Ministry emphasis that supports U.S. religious organizations starting or enhancing programs that help experienced clergy mentor newer pastors as they lead congregations.

“This is truly a blessing and a stain(ed) glass ceiling game changer, not only for the 50 women who are now advancing, being blessed and being placed and elevated in parish ministries, through this grant, but we hope it will help many generations who follow,” said Cook, in a Monday (Feb. 1) announcement.

Cook is the former minister at Mariners’ Temple Baptist Church, where she was the first Black woman senior pastor in the history of the American Baptist Churches USA.

In a recent interview with Religion News Service, Cook said the initiative marks a new juncture in her efforts as a faith leader, entrepreneur and diplomat as she continues to support women in ministry.

“I’m about legacy right now, making sure our people are whole and wholesome,” she said.

Christopher L. Coble, Lilly Endowment’s vice president for religion, said programs like the R.E.A.L. Thrive Initiative especially help clergy as they make key professional transitions.

“When pastors have opportunities to build meaningful relationships with experienced col-leagues,” he said in the announcement, “they are able to negotiate the challenges of ministry and their leadership thrives.”

RNS receives funding from Lilly Endowment.

At Amanda Gorman’s Black Catholic LA parish, ‘it’s like everybody here is a freedom fighter’

At Amanda Gorman’s Black Catholic LA parish, ‘it’s like everybody here is a freedom fighter’

Video Courtesy of Amanpour and Company


At St. Brigid Catholic Church, the Rev. Kenneth Keke preaches that the gospel of Jesus Christ is not only about eternity, but about “having a human face, loving one another.” Keke’s message stresses unity and that a “common humanity is what we need for us to live in peace.”

“That is liberation theology and that is what we preach here,” said Keke, the St. Brigid priest from Nigeria.

This is the South Central Los Angeles church where 22-year-old Amanda Gorman, the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history, grew up singing in the youth choir, taking her sacraments and reciting her poetry.

Gorman, who graduated from Harvard University last year, captivated Americans with the recent recitation of her poem on national unity at President Joe Biden’s inauguration. Since that day, she has signed on with IMG modeling agency and has been invited to recite a poem at the Super Bowl on Feb. 7.

“She would always get standing ovations,” said Floy Hawkins, a parishioner and former director of religious education at St. Brigid. “We were in just as much awe of her then, as we were when we all witnessed her at the inauguration.”

St. Brigid, which established in a small rented house in 1920, has a rich history in Los Angeles.

“St. Brigid was one of the first parishes in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles that encompassed the entirety of Black Catholicism,” said Anderson Shaw, director of the African American Catholic Center for Evangelization.

What used to be an Irish parish is now a predominantly Black and Latino congregation where, Keke told Religion News Service, parishioners take pride in their community and often “push me to do something … to fight more.”

“We need to liberate our people more,” Keke said they tell him. “It’s like everybody here is a freedom fighter.”

St. Brigid is an Afrocentric Catholic church in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles that’s overseen by the Josephites — a religious community of Catholic priests and brothers that centers its ministry in African American communities. The Josephites formed in 1871 to meet the needs of newly freed people after the Civil War.

The Josephites arrived at the South Central LA parish in the late 1970s and early 1980s, after African Americans had migrated to the city from Louisiana and Southeast Texas in search of jobs at aircraft construction companies, said the Rev. Thomas Frank, vicar general of the Josephites, who served as pastor at St. Brigid from 2007 to 2011.

Frank said the Josephites took over the parish at the written request of African American Catholics in the area. The church, which could accommodate about 800 people, was struggling with dwindling attendance and was down to about 150 core parishioners, who were mostly Black but also included a significant number of Latinos.

With the Josephites’ arrival, the parish received its first African American priest, the Rev. William Norvell, as well as an Afro-Latino Jesuit priest, the Rev. Fernando Arizti, to connect with the Latino community, Frank said.

Hawkins came to St. Brigid around 1980 after her sister encouraged her to visit. She heard St. Brigid incorporated a gospel choir during Mass, and she thought, “A gospel choir at a Catholic church?” She decided to give St. Brigid a visit and has remained there ever since.

“The relevancy, the comfort of connecting in the community and the nuances of the actual Mass, it’s very culturally relatable,” Hawkins said.

During a typical pre-pandemic Mass, an ensemble wearing dashikis and headdresses would sound African drums to call parishioners to gather for worship. A gospel choir would follow, sending congregants to their feet as they danced and waved their arms, giving God praise, glory and honor.

Inside the church, a Black crucifix is suspended above the altar. Oil paintings of a Black Joseph holding his son, a Black Jesus, and of Martin Luther King Jr. hang on the walls of the parish.

St. Brigid has become known as a pillar in the community.

It’s a member of OneLA, an organization made up of Jewish temples, schools and other nonprofit groups that work to improve housing insecurity, public transportation and criminal justice reform. The church also turns into a voting center during elections and during the coronavirus pandemic has served as a COVID-19 testing site. St. Brigid also has a food distribution ministry.

To Hawkins, the church community was an ideal and welcoming worship space for her four children.

She recalled how Arizti opened up the church space to a Muslim mosque whose building had been damaged after an earthquake.

“That was amazing,” Hawkins said. “The church was a light to the surrounding community.”

Seeing Gorman in the national spotlight now, Hawkins remembers how the poet’s mother went to the church with her twin daughters, Amanda and Gabrielle, with the hope of exposing her children to a Catholic faith “that was relevant to their identity as African American.”

The Gorman sisters were in middle school, became part of the religious education program and stayed throughout their preparation for baptism, first Communion and confirmation, Hawkins said. Amanda Gorman would participate in the church’s Black history programs through her poetry.

“Her mother was very intentional about her girls,” Hawkins said. “That was very clear, and as a result, her girls were very responsive to the African American worship experience.”

“This is a very humble family,” Hawkins added. “They’re a family that loves to share, but they are not imposing people.”

Gabrielle Gorman has made her own strides, in the filmmaking industry. Last year, she edited and directed a voting public service announcement, #Vote4theFuture, in collaboration with her sister, featuring self-taped clips from celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey, Cara Delevingne and Mahershala Ali. Her work, focusing on social change, has been featured in EssenceBustle and NPR.

In a video created by Gabrielle Gorman, a graduate of UCLA’s School of Film and Television, the sisters deliver a message of solidarity with images of diverse people and protesters across the city of LA. The video shows Amanda Gorman reciting a poem in the bus and in the middle of protesters:

“This is my country-Catholic grandmother on bus-defending hijab-wearing girl-immigrant learning a new language-Native remembers an old one rarely spoken in this world. This is who we are …”

In the days leading up to Jan. 20, Keke said parishioners were calling him to let him know “their very own Amanda Gorman” would be the one reciting a poem at the momentous ceremony. Enthusiasm was high.

“Everybody was excited for the opportunity Amanda received,” Keke said. “There was no doubt that she would do well. She grew to become very articulate and bold.”

Reflecting back on Gorman’s inaugural poem, “The Hill We Climb,” Keke said it was about “democracy and unity,” and the importance of “living in the country as one people, recognizing one another and respecting one another.”

“That is the spirit of St. Brigid,” Keke said.